Strategy execution is a business process like any other

Nothing as practical as a good model

Especially for strategy execution

No manna from heaven.

Everyone is trained to think in business processes: sales, logistics, delivery, service, administration, management and human resource processes. But when it comes to strategy execution, this thinking suddenly seems not to apply, as if strategy execution can be taken for granted and will fall from the sky like manna from heaven. Yet strategy execution is just another business process, which needs to be described and implemented like any other. My book Strategy = Execution contains a model that is a great basis for this.

Single language.

We execute strategy in an ever more complex and volatile world. Using a single method and a single language for strategy execution creates the time and flexibility to deal with our rapidly changing world. Taking a systematic approach and making sure you know which phase an initiative is in helps to successfully complete that phase and the whole initiative. This is true not only during analysis, but also during execution.

At one point, I helped a senior manager at a large insurance company to create a single method and language for strategy execution. Speaking about the use of a phased or step-by-step model, he said: “At any given moment, each initiative will be in a different phase from all the others. But every one of them has to go through every phase. In the heat of the moment, we often don’t know what phase a particular initiative is in. And when it gets stuck or fails to deliver, we’re surprised. But that’s because we keep stepping into the classic pitfall of only approaching our initiatives systematically while we’re defining them. When we most need to be systematic, during execution, our minds tend to be elsewhere.”

Framework wanted.

At the end of the day, every leader I’ve ever met wants a practical framework. And they’ve got a point, because everyone benefits from a good model. It helps everyone speak the same language, helps them read from the same page. And a process model or framework also provides a peg from which to hang best practices, so we can convert generic steps into concrete actions.

Thinking in accelerators, stages, phases or steps—whatever you prefer to call them—helps you realize what needs to be done.

The Strategy = Execution Model: 4 Accelerators and 16 Building Blocks

From my research results, I was able to distill four accelerators of strategy execution. Together, these key elements form a framework that shows you how to execute your strategy. This is the Strategy = Execution Model.

The first accelerator—CHOOSE—applies to the organization-wide process of setting the overall strategy while the other three—INITIATE, HARVEST and SECURE—are intended for executing strategic initiatives such as programs and projects. Each accelerator consists of four how-to building blocks, two of which deal with your organization’s hard capabilities, and two with its soft capabilities.

The top row of hard building blocks deals with goals and benefits, or the why. The next row of hard building blocks refers to the contents of the strategy and the portfolio of initiatives, or the what. The top row of soft building blocks is about the execution and change strategies, or the how. The second row of soft building blocks is about ownership of the initiative and the desired benefits, or the who. Altogether, the accelerators and building blocks are the how-to for the future. In that sense, they are “future practices” rather than best practices.

Working in projects and programs is a must. It is an indispensable skill and a core competency for most strategy execution initiatives. See the figure below for the Strategy Execution Model.

Logical coherence.

For any process to be effective, it needs to be comprised of logical steps with an overall coherence. The idea is to eliminate any redundant steps. In real life, however, things are often tricky and you seldom start a project with a blank slate. There is no building from scratch. Therefore, I would advise you not to use the framework in a step-by-step, waterfall manner, but to work from right to left and from the bottom up. Every building block can be used independently. To use it sensibly, you will by definition need to take into account what industry you’re in, what type of organization you work in, what issue you’re addressing, and your organization’s ambitions, capacities and maturity. A good chef relies on culinary principles, not standard recipes.

Our research has shown that all successfully executed strategies feature the four phases (accelerators) and 16 building blocks. Their indispensability means that you can’t just pick and choose any at will. Within the context of each building block, there is obviously room to tailor it to the specific needs of the project. And in some cases, you can skip a building block or two. For example, a small project aimed at introducing a regulatory change does not require appealing storytelling.

Dynamic use.

I recommend using the Strategy Execution Model dynamically. Yet it is smart to keep an eye out for a few specific balances. First of all, you need to make sure that your hard and soft capabilities are in balance. You also need to verify that you’re spending 20% of your time and resources on strategy and 80% on execution. In addition, you need to look out for some typical patterns—or rather unbalances—we frequently found in organizations’ change portfolios. And last but not least, it’s important to check whether using one building block independently automatically necessitates the use of another one.

Three thoughts on the distinction between strategy and execution

Strategy equals Execution.

If strategy is defined as deciding why you want to achieve a particular goal, how you go about it, and with whom, then the act of devising a strategy with co-designers already influences and initializes a process. And if execution is defined as carrying out that which has been devised, this does not mean execution has to be a passive, mindless job. In fact, you expect the professionals in your organization to keep adapting the strategic plans as often as necessary, depending on what does and doesn’t work, especially in the digital age.

You can’t have strategy without execution, but you should be able to tell them apart.

In the course of our research, the more philosophically inclined leaders we interviewed raised the question whether there was any difference between strategy and execution; weren’t they the same thing? In the 1990s, Professor of Management Studies Henry Mintzberg pointed out the importance of the strategy-execution interaction. That’s a key dichotomy to keep in mind, especially in the New Normal. Strategy and execution have an impact on each other and iterations between the two must be possible. Yet it is necessary to distinguish between them. Otherwise, you get the same problem as with responsibility: if everyone is responsible, no one takes responsibility. There are essential steps in strategic planning and strategy execution that can’t be lumped together. Each requires a special focus and approach. If you don’t pay heed to this difference, you will get neither your strategy nor your execution right.

Less important distinctions.

No one should really give a toss whether this is an open or closed, planned or evolving, green or purple change vision. Who cares whether it’s a fixed destination or an adventurous backpacking model? Change management experts are too keen to pigeonhole every approach. This generates a lot of unnecessary polarization. The Strategy = Execution Model describes universal elements, or building blocks. Each building block has proven its worth in strategy execution. So you can’t just pick and choose at will. At the same time, the model allows for tailor-made adaptation and situational use. That’s why I advocate the dynamic use of the model. Nonetheless, an open or “journey-based” approach to change management can be a great way to kick off the process and can even lead to a measurable and tangible strategy execution result. Such an open approach will gradually become more closed as the process evolves and moves towards an increasingly clear goal and set of solutions.

Strategy = Execution. Improve, Renew and Innovate Faster

How can organizations make strategy execution their number one priority? And improve, renew and innovate faster? This I describe in my book Strategy = Execution. Strategy = execution is based on the research that Turner started years ago into the success factors of strategy execution and innovation. We interviewed 60 directors and professionals and analyzed more than 75 cases, 300 relevant books and articles.

  • More about Jacques Pijl (author) and Turner Consultancy.
  • The most popular interventions based on Strategy = Execution
  • 24 endorsements from organizational leaders
  • American management book of the year 2021, no. 1 in the category of strategic management, in the top 100 bestseller, seventh edition, translated into: English, German, Spanish, Russian and Bahasa.
  • Selection of the most important management books according to CEOs of innovative organizations (FD New Champions). Included in library of classics (mb.nl).
  • Nominated for Management Book of the Year.
  • Countless articles and interviews in FD, Emerce, Frankwatching and CFO.
  • Numerous Ted Talks and in-company workshops at the top 25-50 organizations, average rating 8.7.
  • More about Jacques Pijl (author) and Turner Consultancy
  • The most popular interventions based on Strategy = Execution
  • 24 endorsements from organizational leaders
  • American management book of the year 2021, no. 1 in the category of strategic management, in the top 100 bestseller, seventh edition, translated into: English, German, Spanish, Russian and Indonesian.
  • Selection of the most important management books according to CEOs of innovative organizations (FD New Champions). Included in library of classics (mb.nl).
  • Nominated for Management Book of the Year.
  • Countless articles and interviews in FD, Emerce, Frankwatching and CFO.
  • Numerous Ted Talks and in-company workshops at the top 25-50 organizations, average rating 8.7.

Assignments

Onsverhaal
Alexander Bruinsma

BS&F

The Municipal Insurance is of exceptional societal relevance: this insurance prevents healthcare avoidance among vulnerable residents and thus contributes to preventing additional societal costs. BS&F enlisted Turner to further digitize the application process. The key to Turner’s successful strategy execution: not trying to reinvent the wheel but leveraging available smart IT solutions.

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Onsverhaal
Alexander Bruinsma

Christian Education Group (COG)

The Christian Education Group (COG) is undergoing a challenging educational transformation. The aim is to provide tools for flexibilizing vocational education, enabling students to choose “their own path and destination.” This aligns with the government’s directive for increased flexibility in education.

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Onsverhaal
Alexander Bruinsma

NWB

The Dutch Water Authority Bank (NWB Bank) approached Turner with a specific request: help us become better at change so that we can handle it ourselves in the future. Onno Zwaagstra, along with Martijn Suiker, Turner’s Financial Services Advisor, drafted the plan. They assisted client Bas van Eenige of NWB Bank in its implementation. Now, a year later, there is a department managing the bank’s change portfolio that everyone at NWB Bank is enthusiastic about. The breakthrough in execution came with the choice of a simple and clearly formulated plan: ‘Setting policies without people understanding the necessity is not sustainable.’

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Onsverhaal
Alexander Bruinsma

Liander

In the coming years, Liander will face at least a doubling of energy demand and all aspects related to the energy transition. However, the aftercare of projects ‘outside’ on the streets, was not optimally organized. Gert-Jan van ‘t Klooster, regional manager Amsterdam at the Large Consumption Reconstructions and Networks (GVRN) department, was tasked with streamlining aftercare and enlisted Turner for the execution of the plans.

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More Strategy = Execution

Strategy = Execution
Cor Barelds

Universal principles for effective strategy execution

Strategy execution is a business process like any other in a professional organization and therefore needs a model. Extensive research at Turner Consultancy allowed us to distill four accelerators and sixteen building blocks that together make up a model for successful Strategy Execution.

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Blog
Rick Munneke

Nothing as practical as a good model

Iedereen vindt het normaal zaken als verkoop, logistiek, service en administratie als processen te beschouwen. Alleen bij strategie-executie lijkt het soms alsof mensen verwachten dat de beoogde resultaten en verandering als gebraden hanen uit de lucht komen vallen. Maar strategie-executie is ook ‘gewoon’ een proces.

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Seven Benefits of Hybrid Work and Its Execution

The new hybrid work model necessitates conscious efforts to retain its benefits and avoid reverting to pre-pandemic practices. Therefore, consciously choose a new balance. And remember: work is an activity, not a place. Seven advantages of hybrid working that you want to maintain post-pandemic. Plus, the ‘3 x 33% principle’, or: what TO DO and what NOT TO DO.

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Cross-functional alignment. Break the columns. Every day again

Striving for alignment within the chain of command of the line organization is easy. Alignment is more than making sure the chain of command is well-oiled and that people who work at the same level in the vertical chain meet their KPI targets. The challenge is to align horizontally, outside of the chain of command.

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A leader’s main task: reduce complexity and cut the work in absorbable pieces. Period

It’s nothing short of our social responsibility to get better at strategy execution,” one CEO told me when I was researching my book Strategy = Execution. That’s strong language, I know, but it does bring home the urgency of this problem. Increasing the speed with which they improve, renew and innovate is the No. 1 challenge organizations face. Why is that? I’ll give you three reasons:

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Why strategy execution is the No.1 management issue of our day

It’s nothing short of our social responsibility to get better at strategy execution,” one CEO told me when I was researching my book Strategy = Execution. That’s strong language, I know, but it does bring home the urgency of this problem. Increasing the speed with which they improve, renew and innovate is the No. 1 challenge organizations face. Why is that? I’ll give you three reasons:

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Purge, select, balance

Being selective is a precondition for maximizing your chances of success in strategy execution. This blog post will show you how. This is the step you take in Building Block 2 of the Strategy Execution Model.

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The big why
Blog
Cor Barelds

Why it’s not enough to ask why

In strategy-setting we invariably have to address the Big Why. In Building Block 1 of the process I discuss in Strategy = Execution, I dissect how organizations go about formulating their ambitions and plotting their strategic course.

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Healthcare
mkan

MT1000

Turner has been ranked No. 1 for three consecutive times in the MT1000, an annual survey of corporate services clients. We rank first in the strategy consulting category and have the highest client satisfaction rating of any consulting firm. In addition, we receive high ratings for client focus, execution and product. What is the story behind this fine achievement?

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Jacques in kleur
Strategy = Execution
mkan

Strategy = Execution wins an ‘Oscar’ for management books

Strategy = Execution, the international edition of Jacques Pijl’s bestselling management classic, has been awarded with a no. 1 position by Axiom, a prestigious and leading American Business Book jury and platform. Consultancy.eu writes about this ‘Oscar’ for management books. ​

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Organizations that excel in strategy execution:

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